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France denies deal with Iran over released teacher


French language teaching assistant Clotilde Reiss testifies during her trial at the Revolutionary court in Tehran August 8, 2009. REUTERS/Fars News
French language teaching assistant Clotilde Reiss testifies during her trial at the Revolutionary court in Tehran August 8, 2009. REUTERS/Fars News

By Crispian Balmer

PARIS (Reuters) - France denied on Sunday cutting a deal with Iran to secure the release of a French teaching assistant, who was charged with spying after last year's anti-government protests and detained in Tehran for 10 months.

Clotilde Reiss, 24, flew home to Paris after an Iranian court commuted concurrent 5-year jail terms in return for payment of a $285,000 fine, and gave her back her passport.

Looking relieved and delighted, Reiss was reunited with her family and then whisked away to see French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla at the Elysee Palace.

"I am very, very happy to be back in my country," Reiss told reporters after seeing Sarkozy.

"I want to thank everyone who has helped me in this ordeal, starting with the president, for his support and for defending my innocence from the moment I was arrested," she said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last September that France should consider a prisoner swap if it wanted to see Reiss freed, and her release coincided with two high-profile legal cases in Paris involving Iranians.

Just two weeks ago France infuriated Washington by refusing to extradite an Iranian engineer who was accused of illegally buying electronic equipment from U.S. firms for military use.

In addition, an Iranian serving life in a French jail for the 1991 murder of a former Iranian prime minister, is widely expected to win parole on Tuesday and be immediately expelled.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner denied on Sunday that there was any link between these decisions.

"There was no horse-trading," Kouchner told Radio J.

"There is no connection between these two Iranian cases, which were dealt with by the French justice system, and the freedom of our hostage," he added.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast also told the semi-official Fars news agency that there was no connection between the various judicial procedures.

THANKING BRAZIL, SENEGAL AND SYRIA

In a statement, Sarkozy thanked the presidents of Brazil, Senegal and Syria for playing "an active role" in securing the release of Reiss, without giving further detail.

Reiss was arrested as she prepared to leave Iran on July 1, having worked at a university in the central city of Isfahan.

She was accused of aiding a Western plot to topple Iran's clerical regime after taking part in protests following the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and posting photographs of the demonstrations on the Internet.

She was initially held in a Tehran jail and put on trial along with dozens of other defendants who were also detained during the unrest. The authorities later released her to the care of the French embassy pending a verdict.

Some of her co-accused have been sentenced to up to 16 years in jail and two people were hanged in January. At least nine others are appealing death sentences.

"I want to pay homage to the co-prisoners who were with me for one and a half months at Evin (jail) and who treated me like a sister," Reiss said, adding that she was shaken by the execution of the two men.

"Today, free in my country, my thought turns to them."

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